Recruits go through South Dakota Highway Patrol Academy

Every year, dozens of South Dakota’s finest go through the state’s highway patrol academy, with the hopes of one day becoming a state trooper themselves.
Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 7:17 AM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - The South Dakota Highway Patrol is one of the smaller highway patrol units in the nation, but provides training that is on par with that of any other highway patrol in the country.

Every year, a number of South Dakotans go through the several months of rigorous training, with the hopes of eventually becoming a state trooper.

The training consists of everything from getting tazed and pepper sprayed, to legal training, and how to conduct a traffic stop.

“We conduct traffic stop training in a controlled environment before we allow our troopers to do this on the road,” explained Training Sergeant Garrett Wellman. “That way, we can make sure we are keeping our troopers safe and the public safe when they are out there.”

Trainees stay in Pierre five days a week, and go home on the weekends.

Recruit Daniel Staal and his family moved from California to Pierre so that he could join the state’s highway patrol.

“It is pretty good training,” Staal said. “It is pretty strict, very rigorous, and it really puts it into perspective about how dangerous the roads are. That is the most dangerous thing we do, and anyone does when they get behind the wheel.”

Recruits with prior law enforcement training go through the “fast track” class, while those who do not have any must become law enforcement certified prior to attending more training specific to becoming a highway patrol officer.

“Training, especially week one, was tough to adjust to,” said Recruit Elyse Helkenn. “Particularly, adjusting to getting yelled at, lack of sleep, I mean we even had one morning where they got us right out of bed and had us run three miles. We have really bonded as a family, all suffered through it together.”

While still learning the basics, it is only a matter of time before they are out on the roads, as official state troopers themselves.

“The biggest thing that I preach to our new recruits coming in is to treat everyone fair, treat everyone professionally,” said SGT Wellman. “Just because they are having a rough day on the side of the road, whatever they are dealing with, doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad person. Always treat everyone professionally.”